New Edmonton venture capital fund aims to support social impact startups

A new Edmonton venture capital fund will provide money to startups that focus on having a social impact.

Fund announced during demo day for social impact accelerator

The fund's first recipient is a startup using AI to combat toxic social media. (Getty Images)

A new Edmonton venture capital fund will provide money to startups that focus on having a social impact.

The ScaleGood Fund was announced Tuesday during the first demo day for the TELUS Community and Wellness Accelerator, a program funded through all three levels of government.

Nineteen startups hailing from six countries took part in the accelerator, which over 12 weeks provided mentorship and networking opportunities to help them draw in investors.

Those tech companies — selected for the program because of their potential social impact — offered a wide variety of tools, including a navigation app tailored to people with disabilities and an AI-based social services recommendation system.

The new fund was announced during the event with the same eye toward social impact, offering between $25,000 and $200,000 to startups. It's touting $5 million in funding and a goal to raise another five more.

"We've got social challenges across every major city in the world," said managing director Ashif Mawji. "We're taking a very different approach because we've tried the same things over and over."

Mawji is also the chair of the Edmonton Police Foundation, which organized the accelerator and has partnered with TELUS for the venture fund.

The first recipient is a member of the accelerator's initial group, Areto Labs. The Edmonton-based startup leverages AI to monitor and moderate toxic social media behaviour.

"If you look at Areto Labs, and you look at hatred in the online world, cyberbullying, those are issues that have not been going away," Mawji said. "And this company is very focused on that."

Lana Cuthbertson is one of the three women who founded Areto Labs. (Submitted by Lana Cuthbertson)

Co-founders Kasey Machin and Lana Cuthbertson were previously involved in ParityYEG and its ParityBOT initiative.

"We noticed that women in politics were facing a huge problem and barrier to entry into that particular profession with online toxicity," Cuthbertson, who is the company's CEO, said.

"We came up with a solution that combined tracking toxicity on social media using AI and sentiment analysis, combined with a proactive cultural intervention, that can start to make digital communities more positive, inclusive, and more safe."

One aspect is monitoring. Areto Labs uses natural language processing to sort through social media posts and measure their tenor, flagging hate or toxicity.

Cuthbertson said a focus is on improving the technology to read more subtle language like that used in microaggressions.

Another aspect is action, either responding in some form or doing the work of deleting, blocking or banning, depending on the client's desires.

"Often we use the phrase of automating emotional labour to describe what we're doing," Cuthbertson said.

The startup is currently bringing in investors to meet a $1.5 million target. Cuthbertson said the ScaleGood investment makes up a "significant part" of the nearly one million it has raised so far.

The accelerator program will begin accepting applications for its second round this fall.